Thursday, April 27, 2006

Triumph of the Wall

The above photo, posted in the Joongang Ilbo on Saturday, April 22, is followed by this caption:
The final section of the 33-kilometer (20.5-mile) embankment for the Saemangeum reclamation project was filled in yesterday. The goal of the project, on Korea's southwest coast, is to form a tidal flat of 28,300 hectares (69,930 acres) for rice production and tourism. Some 60 meters are left to seal the water inside.
More photos of this moment can be found here, while a television report filled to the brim with thrilling, earth-moving images (and half a dozen "Mansei!"s) can be found here. It has not been smooth sailing for this project, due to the objections of environmental groups who point to the Saemangeum mud flats as supporting some of the largest and most important concentrations of migratory birds in Asia; with the completion of the wall, the mudflats will be freed of these seasonal visitors “in due course”. The most comprehensive presentation against the project can be found at this website. Their unhappy response to the completion of the sea wall can be found here, while a (small) video is shown here.

More on the history of the project (and the opposition to it) can be found in this article:
Initiated in 1991, the Saemangeum Project was aimed at turning 40,100 hectares of mudflats in coastal areas some 250 kilometers southwest of Seoul into 28,300 hectares of farmland and a freshwater lake by building a 33-kilometer seawall to seal off the mouths of the two rivers running through the area.

This is what the seawall looked like a few years ago. It’s worth noting that at 40,000 hectares (or 400 square kilometers), it’s two-thirds the size of Seoul. The article continues:
In August 2001 environment civic groups filed an administrative suit against the government demanding the nullification of the project. In July 2003 the Seoul Administrative Court ordered the temporary suspension of the controversial project until a court decision determined its future. But seven months later, it decided to let the reclamation of Saemangeum continue […]

On Nov. 12 [2004] the Seoul Administration Court held a final public hearing on the nullification suit, hearing final opinions on the project from civic groups and the government.
In February, 2005, the court ruled that further construction of the sea wall (to close the remaining 2.7 km stretch) should be halted. According to this article,
They listed the following reasons to support their ruling to change or cancel the original permit:

• the possibility of using land reclaimed through the project for agriculture is very low
• it is anticipated that the water quality in the reclamation reservoir will be too poor to use for agriculture
• estimates of economic benefits to be derived from converting the existing area to agriculture are flawed
• massive damage will be caused to the tidal-flat ecosystem.
The government took the case to the Seoul High Court, which overturned this decision in December 2005, and allowed construction to resume.

Now that the wall has been completed, the government still insists it will use the area for farming, as well as for creating parks, though it hasn’t finalized plans yet.

If you’re curious as to what the government and developers may have in mind, you need look no further than this website. There are numerous photos to be found there, such as the one below.

Care to look into some farmland there? Perhaps this real estate agency can help. If you’re still not finding yourself excited over this, you need to get pumped up by this video!

Perhaps you need more than videos and photos to be convinced that this is a good idea, and that it won’t cause a great deal of environmental damage. Will photos of birds on main webpage (linked to above) do?

If even this does nothing to help, and you’re still skeptical of such transparent corporate propaganda, then the only thing left is to show you is something that is simultaneously hilarious and creepy - this little piece of opinion engineering in the form of a comic strip:

Now, in truth, that is not what the father duck says in that panel in the original version, but it does communicate the essence of this little piece of corporate propaganda. Seriously – it’s like one of those boring documentaries the kids are forced to watch on The Simpsons, except that it isn’t a joke. The father duck (who has obviously had a few cake boxes sent to him by the developers) tells junior that Korea has a long history of reclaiming coastal land, pointing to the reclamation that enlarged Ganghwa Island in the Goryeo period (strange that he didn’t mention the 1994 Lake Shihwa reclamation project, which failed for the same reasons environmentalists believe Saemangeum will), and then talks about how they’ll be able to feed 1.5 million more people (“Like North Koreans”), how the wall will become a freeway making travel between Buan and Gunsan much, much faster than it is now on the nearby (already existing) expressway, and how it’s going to become a wonderful tourist area with its large freshwater lake.

You can check out this woefully transparent (yet perhaps for that very reason, oddly amusing) piece of propaganda here.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A Tale of Two Uprisings

Today is the 46th anniversary of the "April Revolution", the uprising which ended the rule of Syngman Rhee (Lee Seung-man), Korea's first president. The uprising was essentially set off by the massive voting fraud perpetrated by Rhee (who won 92% of the vote) during the election held on March 15, 1960. Election day did not pass without violence, and a demonstration held in Masan was put down brutally, which proved to be a delayed fuse when the body of 19-year-old Kim Ju-yeol was found in Masan harbour weeks later on April 11. Angry students began demonstrating across the country, but in Seoul, when they approached the president's mansion to seek redress, were fired upon by police. In the end, 125 people were killed, and perhaps 1000 were injured (William Gleysteen, in Massive Entanglement, Marginal Influence, put the death toll at “some 200”). The ultimate outcome was victory, however, when the armed forces eventually refused to fire on the crowds that had become augmented by people from all walks of life. In looking at some photos of the 4.19 uprising, I was struck by the similarities between that uprising, and another that would follow 20 years later: the Kwangju uprising.

It should be noted that in the photos above, the 1960 shot of demonstrators on a vehicle is taken from newsreel footage shown in Oshima Nagisa's 1960 film Cruel Story Of Youth (though I'm not sure if it is authentic or re-enacted), while a difference in the bus and crowd photos is that while the buses in 1980 were an integral part of the protest, in 1960, I imagine they were just 'bystanders'.

Additionally, both uprisings featured scenes like the ones below, but only the 4.19 uprising is documented by photos of police/soldiers firing on protesters , or retreating from protesters. Though soldiers opened fire on protesters, and were eventually forced out of the city during the Kwangju uprising, I've never seen photos or film of these events.

Of the two uprisings, Kwangju has been better documented (at least, at a glance, in English). Even if one searches the internet, much more documentary evidence is available about the Kwangju uprising (in both languages). While it could be simply that more people were filming the latter uprising, it may have more to do with two factors: Location and success (or lack thereof). The April uprising took place in Seoul and succeeded; the Kwangju uprising took place far from Seoul, in a long ignored region, and failed. Of course, the locations of these protests may have had a great deal to do with their success or failure. In 1960, the protests occurred at the centre, for all to see; in 1980, they occurred at the periphery, and what happened was essentially hidden for years, creating a need to catalogue the government’s crimes..

As this article describes April 1960,

President Rhee characteristically declared martial law. Troops and tanks were menacingly mobilized, but the troops under the tactical control of the United Nations Command were not issued live ammunition. When the Korean government publicly blamed the "devilish hands of the Communists" for the disturbances, the U.S. Secretary of State, Christian A. Herter, issued a statement that the United States believed "that the demonstrations in Korea are a reflection of public dissatisfaction over the conduct of the recent election and repressive measures unsuited to a free democracy."
A protest at the centre of things certainly had its advantages, as perhaps did a more unequal relationship between Korea and an America which was increasingly fed-up with Rhee (Gleysteen did not mention the lack of live ammunition, but did suggest that Korean army leaders were “influenced to some extent by American views” in allowing their troops to side with the protesters). In considering the American response to Kwangju, the US Embassy only began to understand the seriousness of this ‘disturbance’ 3 or 4 days days after it began, after the military had opened fire and the protesters had begun to arm themselves, which presented a very different conflict than the 1960 uprising, when the military had a monopoly on lethal force. The official American statement of May 22, 1980 reads:
We are deeply concerned by the civil strife in the southern city of Kwangju. We urge all parties involved to exercise maximum restraint and undertake a dialogue in search of a peaceful settlement. Continued unrest and an escalation of violence would risk dangerous miscalculation by external forces. When calm has been restored, we will urge all parties to seek means to resume a program of political development as outlined by President Choi. We reiterate that the US government “will react strongly in accordance with its treaty obligations to any external attempt to exploit the situation in the Republic of Korea.”
In considering how both of these uprisings played out, the role of the US seems necessary to consider, but it is only one of many considerations.

When examining the immediate success or failure of these uprisings, there is also the perception of success or failure to consider. The April uprising brought about democracy, but it was short-lived; 13 months of rudderless governing later, Park Chung-hee’s tanks rolled into Seoul. Despite its initial failure, it has been argued that Kwangju, over the long term, haunted Chun Doo-hwan’s presidency and may have kept the spark of protest alive until it re-ignited in 1987. The changing perceptions of these events, plus the fact that Kwangju remained unresolved for so long (and for some victims and their relatives, remains so) has likely helped keep the 1980 uprising in the public imagination 26 years later. Whether it will still remain there after 46 years, only time will tell.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Kim Ki-chan's Lost landscape

A few weeks ago a post by the Metropolitician introduced me to the work of photographer Kim Ki-chan. I managed to find a small collection of his photos online before buying two of his books - Scenes from Seoul Station and Lost Landscape.

Lost Landscape (잃어버린 풍경 , Noonbit Publishing Co., 2004) will appeal to anyone interested in Seoul’s growth over the years. The first half of the book has photos taken in rural areas near Seoul (like Hannam, Bucheon, and Cheonan) between 1967 and 1980. The second half of the book consists of photos taken in southeastern Seoul between 1981 and 1985, as apartment buildings began to sprout like mushrooms across former agricultural areas.

The photos from the first half that follow are mostly of Bucheon, mostly because I used to live there (the division between photos from the first and second halves of the book should be obvious enough). Jung-dong in Bucheon today is totally devoid of any semblance of agricultural land, covered as it is with apartment complexes and an upscale shopping district. The borders of Jung-dong (and being constructed on the left, Sang-dong) are easily discernable in the above satellite photo (which must date from 2001). Jung-dong was part of the first wave of satellite cities to be built around Seoul in the early 1990s (though the commercial zones were still being built when I lived there in 2001. In many of the not-yet-built-upon sites garden plots could be found, though I never understood the arrangements by which people were allowed to grow food there. At any rate, the scenes presented below have been paved over for years.

Jung-dong, Bucheon, 1975.10.26

Jung-dong, Bucheon, 1976.3.21

Sosa-gu, Bucheon, 1974.5.12

Sosa-gu, Bucheon, 1975.11.19

Sosa-gu, Bucheon, 1972.6.25

Chungung-dong, Hannam, 1982.6.6

Samjeon-dong, Songpa-gu, 1981.4.29

Jamsil, Songpa-gu, 1983.3.27

Dunchon-dong, Gangdong-gu, 1984.5.20

Gaepo-dong, Gangnam-gu, 1984.3.4

Oryun-dong, Songpa-gu, 1983.8.7

Oryun-dong, Songpa-gu, 1985.5.19

Samseong-dong, Gangnam-gu, 1981.5.17

Songpa-gu, 1982.7.9

Godeok area, Gangdong-gu, 1983.7.31

Godeok area, Gangdong-gu, 1984.8.5

Youido Sibum Apts, 1971

The photo above is taken from Seoul, 20th Century,: Growth and Change of the Last 100 Years, published by the Seoul Development Institute.

Regional Flavours

Last Saturday I headed down to Chungcheongbuk-do (North Chungcheong Province) with some friends, one of whom hails from there. It wasn't the best day for sightseeing:

The above photo was taken from the car in either southeastern Gyonggi-do or northern Chungcheongbuk-do. After spending hours in traffic, we finally made it to Chojeong-ri, where we spent about three hours at this jimjilbang, which was popular because you could bathe in the mineral water the area is known for - a relaxing antitode to the hours spent in traffic.

We spent another hour en route to Cheongcheon, a small town which reminded me a lot of where I grew up.

Of course, every town has to have its specialties, and Cheongcheon's are olgaengi, a soup made of tiny shellfish, maeuntang, corn, and mushrooms. I didn't get a chance to try the last two, but had the Olgaengi soup that night. It wasn't bad (it contained a bit of deonjang and vegetables), but the flavour didn't really endear itself to me.

We stopped in at the Cheongcheon yangjojang (a makkeoli distillery (or is it a brewery?) and picked up a couple bottles.

I nabbed the label before the bottles were tossed out the next morning.

I got to enjoy it with the samgyeopsal we bought at a butcher shop in Cheongcheon.

I'm normally not a huge fan of samgyeopsal (too much fat) but grilled for 30 seconds in the flames of a charcoal fire, it tasted really good. The Makkeoli was tasty as well, and most importantly, did not lead to a headache-filled morning the next day. The next morning was when I took a picture of this river, from the balcony of my friend's house.

What river is this, you may be wondering (ok, you're probably not!)? It's the Namhangang - the south Han river - the one that Seoul Mayor Lee Myong-bak wants to connect to the Nakdong river by building a canal. [Correction - this is not the Namhangang, though I was told it was.]

Could you send cargo carrying vessels through here? After having some duk mandu guk, we headed for a hike along a river, and ended up at Mireuk Mountain Fortress in Goesan-ri, the ruins of a Goryeo fortress, which has 3.7 km of man-made walls (the rest utilizes cliffs, which is pretty easy to do, i imagine. Boulders the size of small houses were strewn across the valley and mountainside.

Following a river, we made our way up to the top of a mountain (I forget the name now) but there wasn't much to see, due to the remnants of the yellow dust. On our way back down, we got rained on for half an hour. We had passed a military camp on the way up (there was only a single roll of razor wire separating us from the soldiers' tents, which were about 10 feet away(!)) and on the way back, heard automatic weapons fire before we came upon soldiers practicing in a small clearing in the forest (I'll assume they weren't using live ammunition). We stopped in for some tasty maeuntang (the local specialty!) and tried Siwon, the locally produced Soju. It was actually quite good - a lot better than Chamiseul.

It was made in Chojeong-ri, the place where we went to the jimjilbang. We stopped there to fill several empty water bottles with mineral water. While i was waiting, i saw this poster.

There's not much more to say than that it's always good to get out of Seoul, where you're much less likely to find Chungbuk - Fighting! posters...